Tag Archives: The Paris Review

A Portrait of the Artist as a Monster

Harvey Weinstein, Letty Aronson, Soon-Yi Previn, and Woody Allen attending a screening for "Vicky Christina Barcelona" in 2008. © RTN McBride/MediaPunch/IPX

Claire Dederer‘s essay in The Paris Review on whether and how we can continue to enjoy the art of predatory men is excellent, and challenging, and not quite what you think it’s going to be: that is, it’s great writing. Yes, it’s partly about Woody Allen and Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein and how their films can be simultaneously genius and tainted:

I took the fucking of Soon-Yi as a terrible betrayal of me personally. When I was young, I felt like Woody Allen. I intuited or believed he represented me on-screen. He was me. This is one of the peculiar aspects of his genius—this ability to stand in for the audience. The identification was exacerbated by the seeming powerlessness of his usual on-screen persona: skinny as a kid, short as a kid, confused by an uncaring, incomprehensible world. (Like Chaplin before him.) I felt closer to him than seems reasonable for a little girl to feel about a grown-up male filmmaker. In some mad way, I felt he belonged to me. I had always seen him as one of us, the powerless. Post-Soon-Yi, I saw him as a predator.

My response wasn’t logical; it was emotional…

A great work of art brings us a feeling. And yet when I say Manhattan makes me feel urpy, a man says, No, not that feeling. Youre having the wrong feeling. He speaks with authority: Manhattan is a work of genius. But who gets to say? Authority says the work shall remain untouched by the life. Authority says biography is fallacy. Authority believes the work exists in an ideal state (ahistorical, alpine, snowy, pure). Authority ignores the natural feeling that arises from biographical knowledge of a subject. Authority gets snippy about stuff like that. Authority claims it is able to appreciate the work free of biography, of history. Authority sides with the (male) maker, against the audience.

Me, I’m not ahistorical or immune to biography. That’s for the winners of history (men) (so far).

But it’s also about anyone who creates, who is committed to making art and pushing it out into the world. For many artists (particularly those who are women, and or mothers) this requires a level of self-interest and boundary-setting that is usually described as selfish — even a little monstrous:

There are many qualities one must possess to be a working writer or artist. Talent, brains, tenacity. Wealthy parents are good. You should definitely try to have those. But first among equals, when it comes to necessary ingredients, is selfishness. A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one. The selfishness of stealing stories from real people. The selfishness of saving the best of yourself for that blank-faced anonymous paramour, the reader. The selfishness that comes from simply saying what you have to say…

My friend and I had done nothing more monstrous than expecting someone to mind our children while we finished our work. That’s not as bad as rape or even, say, forcing someone to watch while you jerk off into a potted plant. It might sound as though I’m conflating two things—male predators and female finishers—in a troubling way. And I am. Because when women do what needs to be done in order to write or make art, we sometimes feel monstrous. And others are quick to describe us that way.

So at the end, are we allowed to laugh at Annie Hall? Like many of us, Dederer isn’t sure, but her essay adds necessary layers to the conversation, getting us closer to the possibility of a response.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A Syrian man walks through a devastated street following an air strike. (Photo credit: Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images)
A Syrian man walks through a devastated street following an air strike. (Abdulmonam Eassa / AFP / Getty Images)

This week, we’re sharing stories from Anand Gopal and Azmat Khan, Claire Dederer, Dale Maharidge, Leslie Jamison, and Nina Coomes.

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Billy Bragg: Skiffle Songs Are Railroad Songs

Musicians Billy Bragg and Joe Henry
Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, Shine a Light tour by Egghead06 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

I tagged along with a friend to see Joe Henry and Billy Bragg’s “Shine a Light” tour. I knew nothing about the project in advance but “Don’t Try This at Home” remains one of my favorite albums. I was so happy to see Bragg and his battered guitar on stage in a small Seattle theater.

“Shine a Light” is all railroad songs. From the stage Henry and Bragg told stories of the adventures they had recording the album and I thought, “Oh, what a great book this would make!” Bragg’s love for music and the messy tapestry that is America was so apparent. And it’s a steady companion to his leftist politics, his passion for the working man and woman.

There is a book; of course there is, it’s called Roots, Radicals and Rockers How Skiffle Changed the World.  The Paris Review talked with Billy Bragg about the book, skiffle, the history of music, and duck jokes. Really.

I would occasionally have conversations with people like John Peel that led me to realize that skiffle had a huge effect on these people—Morrison, McCartney. Perhaps bigger than the effect punk had on me. The significant thing about the skiffle generation is that they’re our first teenagers. Our first generation to define themselves through their own culture. Previously, there were adults and there were children. Adults listened to crooners, children listened to novelty records, there was no intermediate space until Bill Haley and Lonnie Donegan came along in ’55. And that’s just a year after food rationing ends in the UK. I think it’s significant that this happens when the skiffle kids are twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old. John Lennon is fourteen when rationing ends. He’s had his entire childhood without being able to go into a sweet shop to buy whatever he wants. There’s that pent-up desire to escape having to wear hand-me-downs—because clothing was rationed as well—to get away from the rubble of the war, to make the future happen. And for that generation, the guitar was a symbol of the future arriving. The members of that generation were trying to escape their drab world, their past, by taking up the guitar and playing American roots music—which is paradoxically the opposite of what folk fans were doing in the U.S. In the U.S., they were trying to hark back. Groups like the New Lost City Ramblers were looking to reconnect with the past. The British kids were trying to escape the past as quickly as they could and the guitar offered them the best means to do that.

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Talking with Multi-Genre Writer Walter Mosley

Jean Estel, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Since publishing his first novel Devil in a Blue Dress in 1990, Walter Mosley has consistently written some of the most beloved crime fiction depicting the ongoing struggle at the heart of America: racism and race relations. Mosley is best known for his series featuring black Los Angeles detective Easy Rawlins, but he’s also written album notes, science fiction, short stories, screenplays, and won a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. In the spring issue of The Paris Review, Thomas Gebremedhin spoke at length with Mosley about how he started writing, literary longevity, black male heroes, publishing, and the mystery genre.

INTERVIEWER

Do you plot your novels in advance?

MOSLEY

No, I just start writing. I don’t have any plan. I wait to find out where it goes. Sometimes I do an outline, but even then, that’s not really a plan, because I don’t really follow it. The novel is bigger than your head. A novel is a gigantic, rambling, incredible thing. All you can do is start. Roy Lichtenstein, who I knew quite well actually, would say the reason most painters fail at art—not at painting, but at art—is because they know what the picture is going to be before they approach the canvas. So the whole idea that there are things you should say or want to say or have to say—fuck that.

INTERVIEWER

Charcoal Joe is your fourteenth Easy Rawlins book. You once said that the eleventh novel in the series, Blonde Faith, was going to be your last, yet you continued writing. Why do you keep returning to Easy? What is it about him?

MOSLEY

When I finished Blonde Faith, I couldn’t see another book coming out of Easy. I couldn’t even imagine it. I realized, finally, that I’d reached the border of my father’s life and was entering into the world of my life. I decided if I wrote from that vantage point, from that point of view, I could write the novels exactly the same but with my experience forming it, rather than the experiences of my father and his generation.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have an end in mind?

MOSLEY

I don’t know if I have an end plan. It depends who lives longer, Easy or me.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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This week, we’re sharing stories from Matthew Shaer, John Woodrow Cox, Bethany McLean, Robin Wright, and David Sedaris.

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David Sedaris Is Depressed

David Sedaris in France in December, 2010. (Photo by Frederic SOULOY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s presidency seems to have only been kind to comedians and the wealthy. At the Paris Review, humorist and expatriate David Sedaris tallies the many reasons for his current state of shame and sadness, which comes from being an American traveling the world in times of Trump. As always, Sedaris’ greatest gift is his ability to laugh at the absurdity of life.

Eight. I join my family on Emerald Isle for Thanksgiving and have a great screaming fight with my Republican father, who yells at one point, “Donald Trump is not an asshole!” I find this funny but at the same time surprising. Regardless of whether or not you voted for him, I thought the president-elect’s identity as a despicable human being was something we could all agree on. I mean, he pretty much ran on it.

Later in our argument my father shouts, “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this country in years,” and, “It was just locker-room talk.”

“I’m in locker rooms five days a week and have never heard anyone carry on like Trump in that video,” I argue. “And if I did, I wouldn’t think, Wow, that guy ought to be my president. I’d think he was a creep and a loser.” Then I add, repeating something I’d heard from someone else, “Besides, he wasn’t in a locker room, he was at work.”

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Adventures in Solitude: A Reading List

Photo: Paula Rey (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In my adolescence, summer was a time of self-improvement. I planned my reinvention meticulously. Come the fresh school year, I’d breeze through the doors of my high school with perfect hair, new clothes, and a laser focus. Of course, I had a limited budget, hair that refused to straighten completely, and a tendency to get discouraged or distracted by the slightest obstacle. To be honest, the fun wasn’t in the result. It was the daydreaming, the dog-earing pages of Seventeen and the endless bookmarking of WikiHow articles in Internet Explorer that made everything seem possible.

This summer is my twenty-seventh. I’m looking forward to self-reflection, but I won’t be switching shampoos or going on a shopping spree. Instead, I’m going to live alone for the first time.

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Acting With Agency: The Power and Possibility of Heroic Women

Artemisia Gentileschi's "Judith Beheading Holofernes," image in the public domain.

We’re taught that all narrative conflicts boil down to one of three stories: man versus man, man versus himself, or man versus nature. So what about women? Megan Mayhew Bergman takes to the pages of The Paris Review, looking for depictions of women acting and exploring with agency—from fictional women like Judith in Artemisia Gentileschi’s famous painting, to modern explorers like Rahawa Haile—and finding not nearly enough, and not much range. Still, there are inspiring examples of women taking on nature, and the hopeful note that women will continue carving out large spaces in adventure art and literature.

In the midfifties, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood, sixty-seven years old and mother of eleven children, became the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail. She carried her gear in a homemade knapsack and slept under a shower curtain. She wore Keds. Emma was a survivor of domestic abuse: she had been nearly beaten to death by her husband more than once; when she divorced him, he threatened to commit her to an insane asylum. In 1955, she turned to her kids and told them, I’m going on a walk. She completed the 2,168-mile trail three times, the last when she was seventy-five years old.

In the sixties, Audrey Sutherland, who was raising four children alone on Oahu, would leave for weeks at a time to take solo expeditions. She explored the northern coast of Molokai, swimming in jeans and pulling her camping gear behind her in an army bag. From 1980 to 2003, she explored over eight thousand miles of waterways in Alaska and British Columbia, traveling with an inflatable kayak.

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Yevgeny Yevtushenko: The Siberian Cowboy Poet

Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Yevtushenko in 2010. By Rodrigo Fernández via Wikimedia Commons

…So that got me thinking about Elko. You go to an academic poetry reading and the poetry may be fine literature, but the event is pretty tame. Pretty dry … and Yevtushenko—he didn’t fit that mold. It was like a bomb went off when he started reciting. This volcano of language was pouring out of his body. So my experience in Elko told me this guy is a gold mine. We’ve got to get him to an audience that will really appreciate the performative element of his work.

At the Paris Review, Carson Vaughn profiles the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. He was known for his brightly colored clothing, his bombastic delivery, and his teen-idol-like effect on the women in the audience at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Yevtushenko died on April 1, 2017, in Tulsa, where he’d been a lecturer on poetry and the history of world cinema.

And they all remember the way he performed: animated and loud, arms flailing, spit flying, his new anthology in hand, leaving the stage behind. The one and only Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, walking with a group of performers to a restaurant downtown, would later mimic Yevtushenko’s delivery, his accent spot on, according to Bette Ramsey, and his limbs going wild.

“Talk about a flashback to Catholicism,” Zarzyski said. “Yevtushenko in his Cossack vestments moving up and down the aisle reciting poetry—and the women just swooning.”

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Why Don’t You Just Get One of Those Creative Jobs?

Photo by ctj71081, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I never acted on my mother’s suggestion that I find a nice creative job, like in advertising, but then the job came to me anyway. An art-director friend called and said she was making a TV commercial for Barneys New York and she needed some words. Would I do it?

I didn’t hesitate for a second. Why not? What is the difference between art and advertising?

Quality? Clearly not. The only difference I could come up with for sure was the logo. I was an adman from that day forward, and somehow it gave me the resources to do what I thought was art—with a logo.

I had always been interested in the neutral zone, the DMZ of art and commerce, and now I was working there. It was a place where I could push the limits, mainly because I was so unfamiliar with the limits. Like Iggy, I didn’t feel like a sellout, I felt empowered. If you’re going to be a bad boy, be bad: like Bob Dylan talking to the computer in the IBM ad. Don’t tell me he wasn’t savoring the transgression of the whole thing.

At The Paris Review, writer and creative director Glenn O’Brien narrates the comic struggle of making a living in the arts, particularly the way many creative types struggle with whether or not to go into advertising. He doesn’t.

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